With seemingly everyone gearing up for Halloween, a blog dedicated to monster media really ought to join the celebration, shouldn’t it? To that end, we’ll be having a series of articles posted during the weeks leading up to Halloween focusing on appropriate seasonal subjects.
For this installment: Frankenstein. The original horror icon, Frankenstein/the Frankenstein monster is an essential member of any monster mash, and has made appearances in Japanese media ranging from Astro Boy to Dragonball (Android 8) to Kamen Rider. But how often is Frankenstein the focus, rather than the guest star? The answer is far less often than German movie posters would have you believe:
However, the monster has had a handful of starring roles in the land of the rising sun. To that end, I present my personal top five Japanese Frankensteins.
5) Frankenstein: Legend of Terror is a 1981 anime movie made during the Toei/Marvel partnership, which also gave rise to the Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned anime the year prior. The movie, based on the Marvel comic, isn’t quite as completely insane as its Dracula predecessor, but is a relatively straightforward adaptation of the novel and features the ludicrous level of violence that was permissible on Japanese TV during the era (censored for certain English language VHS releases).
4) Last Frankenstein (1991) walks the line between arthouse and camp without going overboard into either. The premise of the film is that the world is under threat from a virus that makes its victims commit suicide, so the academic community turns to Dr. Aleo, a scientist who insists he’s not Frankenstein (despite having an isolated mansion, hunchback assistant, and penchant for reanimating corpses). Aleo’s workaround for the epidemic is the create the next step in human evolution, a race of supermen that will replace humanity… except, despite his best shipping attempts, he can’t get his creations to breed. When the male monster instead develops feelings for Aleo’s wife, things go a little catastrophic.
3) Enbalming: The Another Tale of Frankenstein is a 2007 manga by Rurouni Kenshin‘s Nobuhiro Watsuki for Jump SQ, which makes it really weird that it hasn’t been picked up for US distribution yet. Taking place a century after the novel, the setting is Europe, filled with mad scientists whipping up their own Frankenstein monsters based on Dr. Victor’s notes. The cast varies from story to story (with overlaps), but mostly focuses on teams tracking down and dealing with these creations.
2) Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009) is a raunchy, violent, and hilariously un-PC flick from the director of Stacy, actually upping the ante of undead splatter in a high school romance context. I’ve written about it more extensively elsewhere, but the gist is that it’s about two schoolgirls, one descended from Dracula, one descended from Frankenstein, fighting over a boy (pretty much just what the title implies, isn’t it?), and, unlike a lot of entries in the supernatural teen romance genre, the monsters are legitimately monstrous and well, not so romanticized.
1) Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), as you should have guessed by now, is my number one pick for greatest Japanese Frankenstein project. I mean, it’s about the heart of the Frankenstein monster getting shipped from Nazi Germany to Hiroshima, getting irradiated and growing into giant monster, and battling a completely unrelated subterranean dinosaur kaiju. The movie gave us Baragon, later featured in a handful of Godzilla projects, features great performances by Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno (one of two Toho kaiju flicks from 1965 to make that claim), and served as a springboard for the not-as-direct-as-you’d-expect sequel War of the Gargantuas. This is all on top of Toho’s A-team of director Honda, composer Ifukube, and SFX wiz Tsuburaya handling their usual duties for monster movies with honed mastery. What more could you possibly want in a film?
Hint: If the answer is a giant octopus, at least one version of the film has you covered.
Did I make any egregious omissions? Let me know what your favorite Japanese Frankenstein project is in the comments box, and look for similar articles as we close in on Halloween!